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Must, have to or have got to?

Must, have to or have got to?

Have you ever wondered why there are different ways to describe a need or obligation to do something, and if you picked the right one?

No? Just me?

Oh well, I’m going to explain it anyway.

Here goes!

must

  • is generally used when the obligation comes from the speaker, or from internal reasons
  • the speaker is expressing a personal obligation – not an external one
    • I must call my friend Lucy again soon. We haven’t talked for a while. -> I feel obliged to talk to her because I want to, not because somebody else is telling me to.

have to

  • is generally used when the obligation is external, or when the speaker is obliged to do something because somebody (or something) else is telling them to
    • I have to work tomorrow, even though it should be my day off, because my colleague is ill. -> I am going to go to work tomorrow because somebody else is unable to – I wouldn’t do it otherwise.

have got to

  • is used in the same way, but usually only in informal situations
    • I can’t talk right now, I’ve got to help my brother with his homework.

P.S. In case you were wondering, need to is also used in a similar way as have (got) to. That being said, there’s no need to worry if you feel like you might have used the wrong word – in fact, what I just described are only small differences in connotation and probably don’t matter that much in the end. But I hope you found it useful anyway!

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